The PJ Tatler

Preventable Medical Errors Third-Leading Cause of Death, Senate Panel Told

A Senate committee heard today that preventable medical mistakes in hospitals are surpassed only by heart disease and cancer in causes of death for Americans.

Dr. Peter Pronovost of Johns Hopkins University told the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging that blood clots, overexposure to radiation, infections, drug reactions, diagnostic mistakes and falls are taking their toll despite advances in prevention.

“We need to declare right now that preventable harm is unacceptable and work to prevent all types of harm,” Pronovost said.

A recent Journal of Patient Safety study put the annual toll from preventable medical errors at as many as 440,000 deaths each year — not counting tens of thousands more patients who die outside of hospitals from medical mistakes such as drug errors.

“Medical harm is a major cause of suffering, disability, and death – as well as a huge financial cost to our nation,” Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said at the hearing. “This is a problem that has not received anywhere near the attention that it deserves and today I hope that we can focus a spotlight on this matter of such grave consequence.”

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one out of every 25 patients acquires an infection in the hospital for an annual toll of 75,000.

Medical errors also rack up a tab of up to $1 billion a year when counting effects such as lost work days. “People who are harmed lose their jobs, their homes, their insurance,” said Lisa McGiffert of Consumers Union. “Many go bankrupt trying to pay the medical bills that they would not have had if they had not been harmed by a health care provider.”